I’d say I’ll try to avoid the cliché of getting nostalgic in this but this is Sneaker History so that would be kind of pointless. That said, after watching the NBA Finals and seeing the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry win an NBA Championship, I think there is a good chance the Under Armour Curry One might be the most important basketball shoe ever created. Absurd? Maybe so, but let me explain.
The greatest players, historically have been given signature sneakers. In 1985, Michael Jordan played just 18 games in the first year of having his own signature sneaker from Nike. Jordan returned for the NBA Playoffs, but even his 63 point game against Boston couldn’t get the Chicago Bulls a playoff victory. In 1989, Magic Johnson was given the Converse Magic, the first shoe to carry his name. Magic and the Lakers were on the quest to three-peat but were swept by the Detroit Pistons in the Finals. In 1996, Kobe Bryant primarily came off the bench for the Lakers; he won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and Los Angeles made the Playoffs but were defeated in the second round. In 2004, LeBron James averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists; that was enough for Rookie of the Year honors but the Cavs didn’t reach the Playoffs.
Stephen Curry just won an NBA Championship and was the regular season Most Valuable Player in his very first signature sneaker. This will most likely never happen again. Ever. You have witnessed Sneaker History in the Making.
Clearly I am biased, as I grew up initially a Warriors fan, then torn into a fan of two teams when the Kings came to my hometown of Sacramento in 1985. All biases aside, there is something purely magical about Stephen Curry’s Under Armour Curry One and its potential for the future of sneakers.
The greatest sneakers of all time will always be defined by the performances and the memories that were created in them. A perfect example of this from UA is the “Double Nickel” Prototype II. It was based off of Brandon Jennings’ performance back in 2009 and the colorway he wore that day.
Why do you think Michael Jordan‘s Air Jordan 3 is arguably the most iconic sneaker ever? He literally flew in them. You can point out the design being innovative, it saving him from parting ways with Nike, or any number of stories that are associated with the Air Jordan 3. However, when it comes down to it, anyone that watched the dunk contest that year still gets chills thinking about seeing Jordan take flight.
The great thing about the Air Jordan 3 and the timing of its arrival into sneakers is that it came as basketball sneakers were about to blow up. The competition in basketball footwear was unparalleled. Reebok and Nike were going head to head with each other for the top spot, with brands like adidas, Avia, Converse and others putting out some of their greatest styles in the years that followed. The competition is what made all the brands elevate their research and design. It’s what helped make Nike and Reebok products from the early 90’s incredible.
Nostalgia has become a huge reason for the growth of sneakers in the past decade. Nearly every brand from the late 80’s and early 90’s has made a comeback (or at least attempted to). Hype, marketing, and social media buzz are the other huge parts of this incredible business. But those things are also what has many in the sneaker industry wondering if we are in a bubble that is about to pop, similar to the California housing market that busted a few years back, or even more relevant, the sports card business, which fell off sometime between Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Janet Jackson’s nipple slip. However, nostalgia is not an area in which brands can truly compete against each other because we as individuals each have our own memories and our own personal nostalgic moments.
With the economy consistently heading northward, sneakers have grown tremendously and look to be on that track for a while. But, if there is room for a bubble burst of any kind, which I personally feel is necessary, then it will revert back to the reasons why people buy sneakers in the first place: functionality. There is no better proof that functionality exists than to have a player’s very first signature shoe on his feet throughout a season in which he wins MVP and his team wins an NBA Championship. Because, no matter how many Youtube reviews, blog posts, and retweets hit the Internet, basketball sneakers are aspirational–we buy them to be like Mike. We buy them to feel like Chef Curry. Everyone aspires to be the best and better than the person on the other side of the court.
Under Armour may have missed out on Kevin Durant but they have the perfect weapon in Stephen Curry. He’s an average sized guy playing in a league of giants. He’s more relatable than a 6’10” anomaly with a 7′ 5″ wingspan like KD or an abnormally gifted talent like LeBron.
Whether you like Curry’s UA shoes or not, they’re a solid start to a very important change that is needed in the footwear business. Nike hasn’t had true competition within basketball shoes in years, dominating the market with over 80% share at times. The Under Armour Curry One might not have the nostalgia or the storytelling aspects of other shoes, but since it’s the first signature shoe for the NBA MVP and World Champion, it will make the people who never noticed UA Basketball shoes take note. That will lead to a more competitive market, which is a truly beautiful thing for all of us.
Nick Engvall is a sneaker enthusiast with nearly 15 years of experience in the footwear business. He has written for publications such as Complex, Sole Collector and Sneaker News. Helped companies like Eastbay, Finish Line, Foot Locker, and StockX better connect with their consumers. He’s an avid San Francisco Giants fan, Allen Iverson fan, and owns way too many sneakers for his own good.